By: Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1828-1889)
Despised by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, What Is To Be Done? is a fascinating, sympathetic story of idealistic revolutionaries in mid-nineteenth century tsarist Russia; translator Nathan Haskell Dole affirms in his preface his conviction that it is a thriller that no one can put down once s/he begins it. Its variegated cast of characters includes Vera Pavlovna, a boldly independent woman in a time of great oppression, and the inspirational radical Rakhmetov. The author wrote the novel from the depths of the infamous Peter & Paul Fortress of St. Petersburg, the Abu Ghraib of tsarist Russia, and later spent many years of exile in Siberia. Dostoyevsky disparaged Chernyshevsky's novel repeatedly, most notably in The Possessed (as sort of bedside reading material for some of the more despicable characters) and in Notes From Underground. Chernyshevsky's legacy, however, was in inspiring an ascetic, self-abnegating radicalism in later revolutionaries and activists.